Pain & Gain has all the components of film that most people will hate. Glorified violence – check, casual objectification of women – check, Mark Wahlberg as yet another bad guy with good intentions – check, and, of course, the gore-loving explosion aficionado that is Michael Bay – check. Yet for some reason, despite all of these things, Pain & Gain is actually a pretty decent film.
Based on a rather amazing true story, it tells the tale of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), a Miami body builder and personal trainer who wants a chance at living the American Dream. But instead of working hard to get what he wants, Daniel decides kidnap and extortion are his ticket to success.
He enlists the help of fellow trainer, Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and muscled, god-loving ex-con Paul (Dwayne Johnson) to help carry out the job but of course in usual Hollywood style, what at first seems like a straightforward task soon begins to go horribly wrong and our three protagonists find themselves dealing with a lot more than they had first bargained for.
With over 130 minutes of bulging muscles, fast cars, half-naked women and violence, Pain & Gain exudes enough testosterone to keep the fitness freaks in this film juiced up until the end of eternity.
This may seem slightly off-putting to those who are not usually fans of films featuring brutal torture and lap dancers but somehow the combined crassness of everything just seems to work.
With a CV including Bad Boys, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Transformers, it's easy to see why Michael Bay is involved with this film and frankly, it is to Pain & Gain’s benefit that he did.
For example, the action sequences are extremely well executed and show the signs of a director who really knows what his audience wants to see – despite how graphic and disgusting that may be. Also, despite the two hour running time, the film manages to hold your interest - although it’s hard to tell if that‘s down to Bay’s directorial skills or the stranger-than-fiction story line.
Unsurprisingly, Mark Wahlberg plays the part of Danny to perfection, most likely because he’s played various versions of this character in almost every film he’s ever been in. Similarly, Dwayne Johnson gives a great performance as Paul whose Jesus worshipping provides an interesting and unexpected layer to a character we’ve seen done a thousand times before.
Another great addition to Pain & Gain is the hilarious Rebel Willison as Adrian’s wife whose handful of scenes steal the show and leave you wishing that Bay could have sacrificed a strip club scene or two to give her more time on screen.
Although this is easily Bay’s best film to date I wouldn't recommend holding out high hopes for anything else he has coming down the line. Frankly, he just happened to get lucky that his garish and over-the-top style suited this particular film and you get the distinct impression that even if the film didn’t call for loads of slow motion explosions and topless girls that he would have put them in anyway.